Naomi Wolf: The latest contributor to “Caught in the Undertow”

So, back during the 2008 presidential election campaign, after witnessing such mind-bogglingly bad politics in writing by so many well-respected feminist Clinton supporters, it occurred to me that I should publish an anthology called “The Second Wave: Caught in the Undertow.” I’d forgotten about that tag to some extent until today, while pouring over the “#MooreandMe” campaign on Twitter. (For a quick rundown on what that is, read this article on Salon.com by Sady Doyle, who began the campaign on Twitter and her own blog, Tiger Beatdown.)

Right now, I don’t really want to talk about Michael Moore, and his entirely misinformed and irresponsible behavior over the last week. Suffice to say, he repeated obvious and already-debunked untruths about the rape allegations against Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange, helped further publicize the names of the accusers, and openly mocked the accusations.

Nor do I really want to talk about Keith Olbermann, who, like Michael Moore, further spread misinformation about the allegations and about the women accusing Assange of assault, and since has given us all an object lesson in how to completely alienate a bunch of your fans and also undermine your own credibility with the handy-dandy tool known as Twitter.

I don’t even want to talk about whether or not Assange raped those women. Because that’s not even the point here. The point is two women reported having been assaulted and have since been publicly named and smeared. Whether or not the investigation of Assange is politically-motivated is also not what I want to talk about right now. I believe it is, most definitely, because generally no one gives this much of a shit when a woman reports being assaulted. But, again, that’s not what I want to talk about.

No, the person I want to talk about right now is Naomi Wolf.

Back in the olden days, Naomi Wolf was my hero. This was back when I was a junior in high school, and I chose to read her first book, The Beauty Myth, for my humanities class. I was blown away by her words, even those that I would realize later, when I was a more seasoned feminist, were problematic and really not about all women and definitely not women like me. But that was later. At the time, it was Naomi Wolf and her book who began to form the foundation of my blossoming feminism.

About a year after I read The Beauty Myth, I was raped. I was raped by a boy I knew, who lived in my building, with whom I’d made out. I was raped when this boy locked me in his room and held me down on his bed and put a pillow over my head until I stopped struggling. When it was clear that running for the door and saying no and putting up a physical fight wasn’t going to get me out of being raped, I asked him to at least put on a condom. The only thing I wanted less than to be raped was to be impregnated or given HIV while being raped.

At the time, I knew it was rape, and yet I didn’t know. I knew I’d had no choice, and yet I blamed myself anyway. I was angry that he’d taken my virginity and ashamed of myself. I told no one about it for years.

(Apparently, the boy didn’t realize he raped me, either. On Thanksgiving of this year, a full 17 years later–half my lifetime–he contacted me via Facebook as though we were just old friends who had fallen out of touch. As though he hadn’t raped me.)

But back to Naomi Wolf, my first feminist hero. Since I read The Beauty Myth, my reading list has expanded a lot. Wolf has been displaced by bell hooks and Audre Lorde. “Feminist” has been slowly purged from the ways I identify myself after years and years of being alienated by white feminists. My disgust with trying so hard to belong to a movement that has made it clear it doesn’t want me as a member has led me to abandon mainstream feminism and look for more inclusive communities committed to the goals of dismantling the kyriarchy, not simply replicating patriarchy when it benefits them to do so.

But all that said, it still never occurred to me that Naomi Wolf would at some point rewrite the definition of rape for the sole purpose of protecting a leftist man accused of rape. It never occurred to me that Wolf would actually fix her mouth to say that having unprotected sex with someone who is asleep counts as consensual sex. It never occurred to me that Wolf would say that having unprotected sex with someone who is asleep and has made it clear while awake that she will not have unprotected sex is consensual.

But she did.

No, really. She did. Really. Click that link. There’s video.

What’s really disturbing here, aside from the actual case in question, is Wolf’s implication that if a woman does not specifically say “no” to sex, she’s consenting. The absence of “no” is consent. The absence of “no” is “yes.” Our default position on someone having sex with us is apparently one of consent.

So, apparently when I’m sitting on the couch with my fiancé watching television, I’m saying yes to sex. When I’m sitting at my desk in my office, I’m consenting to sex. When I’m driving across the Bay Bridge, walking to the BART station, eating dinner at the Mexican restaurant a couple of blocks away, I’m saying yes to sex. I’m always, ALWAYS, consenting to sex. Always. Until I say no.

Thanks, Naomi, for clarifying.

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